By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Johnston: Lets kick poverty out of town
Placeholder Image

Just last week, I was asked to read a Dr. Seuss book to a local elementary school class. I get asked to do those types of things often, but I jumped at the chance because I thoroughly enjoying interacting with the future decision makers of our town. I didn’t realize that day, in particular, would be an eye-opening experience for me.

My day started by listening to a young lady in the third grade recite the Roald Dahl poem ‘Television.’ Her performance was remarkable. She actually won first place in the state Griffin RESA competition for her recitation. The poem talks about replacing television with books and the gears in my brain immediately went into high gear.

‘How many kids in our community have someone that reads them a book daily?’ I pondered. Then it hit me like a ton of books: With the low literacy rate in our county, that number is assuredly very low. Currently, 14 percent of Newton County residents are considered illiterate and 20 percent live in poverty. That means 1 in 7 people in our county don’t have basic reading and writing skills. Newton County has a 15 percent high school dropout rate, compared to the national average of 7 percent. Those are ugly statistics that never get talked about, but the truth hurts.

The immediate question is ‘How can we change those numbers?’ Before we answer that, let’s ask why we are faced with those statistics. It all starts with reading and writing. If you can’t read and write, how are you ever going to work your way out of poverty? Ninety percent of Northeast Georgia employers say they struggle finding qualified employees to hire. Of those employers, 56 percent say it is due to a lack of basic education. The jobs are out there, we just need educated applicants.

Covington has several wonderful organizations working hard to help those in need. I thank and support them immensely, but they are fighting an uphill battle and they can’t win the war alone. There are many methods to help kick poverty out of our town, but here are three.

As a community, we need to develop a process to ensure each child has someone read to them daily for 15 minutes starting at age two. It is common knowledge that a child’s success in school increases dramatically when they have someone read to them once a day, out loud. Perhaps there is a group of senior citizens that can help read to our youth.
We unequivocally have to make sure our students graduate from high school. We need to create and install a cooperative education program designed to help students at risk of not graduating complete their high school education. They will do this while gaining real-world job experience. Our business and industry partners probably have some fascinating ideas on how we can accomplish this.

This one falls on everyone’s shoulders and if you are capable of reading this letter, you can help. We need to instill a sense of community pride when it comes to education. Our entire community can unite and become a place that acts on their desire to see our piece of the planet thrive. Believe me, it all starts with someone reading to you.

I am going to create a committee that will generate plans to accomplish our common goal of increasing our literacy rate. If you would like to be part of this group please send me an email at and include a short note about why you would like to be a part of this effort.

Chur ches in our community do fantastic outreach missions around the globe and I am proud of them for that. Why can’t we take a step back and put some more effort into helping those in our backyard too? If we all pull the rope in the same direction, we will create an environment where our children and their children thrive and we can end the cycle of poverty that has plagued our town.

“You're never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.” – Dr. Seuss

Ronnie Johnston was elected Covington Mayor in 2011. He can be reached at